Rows overshadow Munich air crash anniversary tribute

It was supposed to be a fitting tribute to honour the 23 men killed in one of football's worst tragedies. But oversights and arguments threaten to overshadow Manchester United's plans to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Munich air disaster next month.

Debates about what type of tribute, fears that it will be spoilt, the presence of a club sponsor on United's commemorative banner and the revelation that the England national team are not planning to hold a minute's silence have cast a cloud over the anniversary. Preparations had started amicably this month when United said they would be paying tributes at the home game which falls closest to 6 February, the date of the crash in 1958 which claimed eight of the club's "Busby Babes".

The opponents for that game, on 10 February, are United's neighbours Manchester City. Both teams, keen to show solidarity, said they will wear commemorative kits, with the players in plain black boots. United also planned a minute's silence before the game.

City supporters, worried that some of their number would spoil the silence, contacted United officials and asked them to reconsider that idea and instead opt for a minute's applause.

United refused, their spokesman Phil Townsend saying: "It's a solemn event. We don't think applause is the best way to commemorate the death of 23 people." The club still intends to hold the one-minute silence.

Kevin Parker, secretary of the Manchester City Supporters' Club, warned: "We understand what United want to do and the reasons for it, but the reality is that there is a possibility the silence will be disrupted by people from the City section. We didn't want that."

Last week, furious United fans complained to the club about a huge banner covering the glass front of the east stand at the club's Old Trafford ground.

The banner depicts the Busy Babes' final line-up alongside the words of a famous terrace chant, "United Calypso". But the club got the lyrics wrong, omitting a reference to the club's manager Sir Matt Busby. Fans also said the banner carrying the logo of the club sponsor AIG was "vulgar". United apologised for the wording error and replaced the incorrect panels of the banner, but they said the AIG logo was "entirely appropriate".

A Football Association spokesman said all players in England's match with Switzerland on the day of the anniversary would wear black armbands and a video tribute would be shown before the game. No decision has been made on a minute's silence. He denied this was because of fears that fans of other clubs would not respect the silence.

The disaster happened after a flight taking Manchester United's squad, along with supporters and journalists, home from a European Cup match against Red Star Belgrade stopped to refuel at Munich airport. The British European Airways plane crashed on its third attempt at take-off on a slush-covered runway.

Of the 44 people on board, 23 died, including eight United players and one former City player, Frank Swift, who was working as a journalist. Three of the victims were England internationals.

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